We’ve all experienced that overwhelming urge to do something - anything - other than the work that’s in front of us. As deadlines loom and the end of the day gets rapidly closer, you find yourself browsing social media rather than finishing off that all-important project. Sometimes, it can feel like there’s nothing you can do but procrastinate.
This can be a huge efficiency-killer, but don’t worry. Plenty of people have experienced procrastination before you, and as such there are a range of techniques that can help you defeat it. Here are three of the best options available, all of which have been backed up by research.
Use a Pomodoro timer
The Pomodoro Technique, invented by Francesco Cirillo, is fairly simple but can be life-changing. Essentially, it involves working on a task for 25 minutes, then taking a five-minute break. After four periods of work, take a longer, 20 or 30-minute break. This can help you cut down on the amount of procrastination in your day.
By giving yourself set periods to check social media or play a game on your phone, you remove a lot of the temptation to do these activities when you should be working. Using a Pomodoro timer means you’ll never be more than 25 minutes away from a period of rest, so you’ll be able to focus more on your job. However, it might not be for you if you don’t respond well to a tightly-structured day.
“Feeling failure and the avoidance of tasks are the main reasons for procrastination and the Pomodoro is a good method of beating that destructive habit.” – Jia Feng’s research
Take a broader perspective
So, why do we procrastinate? Surely we know that our work is important, so we should be able to prioritize it over time-wasting activities, right? Well, not necessarily. Our brains are subject to something called temporal discounting, which makes us consider our present needs to be more important than our future needs.
From a practical standpoint, what that means is that finishing your project is seen by your brain as a future need. You won’t get a sense of accomplishment until it’s finished, but you’ll get enjoyment from going on Facebook right now, so it prioritizes the latter. That’s why you can find yourself procrastinating even when you know you need to get on with work.
The solution? Train yourself to look at the big picture. Rather than thinking of each task as a separate chore that you need to complete in order to get paid, zoom out and look at them as stepping stones to your overall career goals. If you want to be CEO one day, you’ll need to get a promotion, so you’ll need to show yourself to be an excellent worker, and prioritizing your work is a step on the way to that.
Actively procrastinate (if that’s what you need)
You might find that, even though you procrastinate most of the day, you’re always able to finish everything before your deadlines approach. If that’s the case, you might benefit from active procrastination; rather than drifting into time-wasting activities throughout the day, acknowledge that you work better under pressure and allow yourself the time to relax.
Some people simply work better under pressure. This could be because the risk of being late provides you with a rush of adrenaline, which in turn helps you achieve higher levels of focus. If that sounds like you, then plan this into your schedule. Acknowledge that you’re going to get more than half the work done in the last days before the deadline, and relax a bit until then.
A study found that this form of active procrastination doesn’t harm performance at all, while passive procrastination does. However, be absolutely certain that you work well under pressure before you try this out, otherwise you could be in for a nasty shock.